People who are going back to school to pursue a graduate degree are wrestling with “the best time” to do it, which means weighing what the potential impact will be on their career and personal lives. Full-time students will put both on hold; part-time MBA students are considering when and how to add school on top of everything else.
Part-time MBA programs: How to add ‘one more intense experience’ to lifeBY Shannon FitzgeraldSeptember 02, 2021, 2:00 AM
Most part-time MBA programs take two and a half to three years to complete, though many allow for self-pacing, which can extend that time. This format and the ability to fit school in on a part-time basis attracts a broader demographic. On average, part-time students are two to three years older, and have three to five years more work experience, than full-time students. Part-time programs are also an increasingly popular path to an MBA degree.
Applications to self-paced, part-time MBA programs grew 53% in 2020 from the prior year, the Graduate Management Admission Council reported in its application trends study. Part-time programs experienced the largest increase across all MBA applications, including full-time and online.
Going to school part-time is hardly a part-time endeavor, however; it requires adding hours of school, study time, and networking to an already busy schedule.
“You are balancing more things in a part-time program,” Jamie Breen says of the tradeoff with a full-time program. Breen is the assistant dean for evening and weekend MBA (EWMBA) students at UC Berkeley’s Haas. “It is one more intense experience on top of work and family.”
Because many part-time MBA students are juggling work and family commitments, they must become incredibly skilled at time management.
Mo Naveed got some valuable advice from a colleague before enrolling at the University of Chicago in an MBA–computer science dual degree program. That colleague quoted a former Coca-Cola CEO’s philosophy on how to prioritize through the imagery of juggling a series of glass and rubber balls.
“Know which are which and which ones you can drop,” Naveed recalls of the advice. “And that has been what has helped the most throughout—knowing what can be put down for a while, that doesn’t need to happen right away.”
Tip: You’ll need to manage time wisely and balance competing demands. School, work, and home life can’t be prioritized equally all of the time, so figure out when to give one area full gas and when to reshuffle.
Career data for graduating full-time business students contributes to a school’s reputation and rankings, and serves as a marker for prospective students. Part-time MBA programs don’t have comparable data, because the vast majority of students are already working full-time.
Though many part-time students remain with their companies, there is still a fair amount of job switching that happens both during and after the program. “We think of it in terms of career progression,” Breen says of these types of promotions and job changes.
Tip: When evaluating programs and speaking to current part-time students and alumni, pay attention to their career progression. How have they expanded their role at their company or pivoted in their career or changed jobs?
Part-time students can explore new full-time positions much earlier in a program than full-time counterparts, which is helpful if an MBA candidate is seeking to change companies or roles or to make a bigger career pivot. This is where the efficiency skills honed during school can be an asset that students can tout to recruiters.
“It’s a huge strength from the part-time program that people come out with such a sense of prioritization and time management,” says Suraj Kandukuri, who is a member of the 2021 MBA class at University of Michigan’s Ross.
Many part-time students say it’s worthwhile to go through the recruiting process for the experience and that the exposure to other companies and industries leads some to make career changes they wouldn’t have considered. For other people, the process confirms their career path is the right fit. Part-time students have another advantage at their disposal: Classmates may become resources or referrals for openings at the companies where they work.
Tip: Use on-campus career development and go through some of the recruiting process, even if you are not planning to make a move.
MBA grads emphasize that the networking opportunities in business school are as valuable as the academics, and it’s no different for part-time students, even those who assume networking will play a much smaller role. Though they may be more pressed for time, students say getting involved outside the classroom has enhanced their part-time MBA experience.
Naveed is in a book club, a food club, and is cochair of the analytics club. He says the abundance of extracurriculars makes it easy to find people with common interests. “Really build that professional network in a social setting,” he advises students.
When he started at Ross, Kandukuri threw himself into multiple teams and activities, including a student-run podcast for the part-time cohort called Working for the Weekend. He learned so much from the experience that while still in school, he started producing and hosting his own podcast, Brown People We Know.
Tip: Even if it feels as if you have no available hours left in your week, don’t sacrifice this intangible asset of the MBA program. Participate in extracurricular activities, which are a key component for networking and also will expose you to some new experiences and skill-building.
The bigger picture
Perhaps what’s most surprising for students who graduate from a part-time MBA program is how holistic the experience is—and that it’s not just a stepping-stone in their career. Part-time MBA alumni often say things like “Know your why” of attending business school and that the full experience is even more expansive beyond what you imagine it will be.
Over the course of his program, Naveed says he no longer saw his MBA as a means to an end: “The largest benefit is I’m way more plugged in to how different people are thinking.”
Meanwhile, Kandukuri, who went into consulting upon graduation and continues his podcast, started at Ross with a different plan entirely—to move into the management side in the nonprofit world. But it was through the accumulation of experiences—of which the classroom was just one portion—that he ended up in a different place, all of which he now views as interconnected.
Finally, Breen says that what surprises the part-time students at Haas the most “is how much this experience affects their personal growth and not just professional growth.”
Tip: Know what your goal is in going to business school, but have an open mind that it may change.